While breastfeeding is supposed to come “naturally,” the reality is that there’s some learning and unlearning as you and your baby settle down to a rhythm. And just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, your little one might decide to give it all up and just fall asleep! Why is your baby falling asleep when they should be feeding lustily? From the obvious to practical and physiological reasons, a few factors might explain why babies drift off during nursing.
1. They’re Full
This is the simplest and most obvious reason. Newborns typically doze off at the breast when they’re satisfied after a feeding. When their tummy is full and they are warm and comfortable, why wouldn’t they get a nice nap in! In fact, it’s almost impossible to keep breastfeeding babies awake when their tummy is full for the first few months. Experts even suggest that as your baby grows older, it’s best put them to bed (or crib!) when they’re slightly awake so they get used to sleeping without nursing.1 Also, establish a relaxing routine at bedtime as soon as possible. This should help your baby get to sleep without a fuss and disassociate nursing from sleep.2
2. They Have Not Latched On Properly
Babies who don’t latch on properly may also fall asleep at the breast. Another sign of an improper latch is that you might feel discomfort or pain during the feeding. If your baby falls asleep too soon – say, around 5 minutes after they latch on or after sucking for just 2 to 3 minutes – they may not get enough milk for proper weight gain and growth. If sufficient milk is not removed from your breasts, it will also result in a reduction in the amount of milk being produced for the baby.3
If your baby has fallen asleep because they haven’t latched on properly, break the suction by inserting your finger at the corner of the baby’s mouth and turning the finger slightly. Don’t just pull the baby off as it can hurt you and startle the baby. After you break the suction, try burping the baby. Then give your breast again and make sure that both your nipple and areola go into your baby’s mouth. You might also want to switch breasts to see if your baby’s more comfortable that way. If you are continually facing problems with getting your baby to latch on or feed, a lactation expert can show you how to hold your baby properly and give you other tips on breastfeeding.4 You can also pick up some tips on latching and breastfeeding techniques here.
3. Their Birth Weight Was Low
If your baby had a low birth weight, that is, below 5½ pounds at birth, you might face some challenges while breastfeeding. You may find that your baby is sleepier than normal during feedings. They may also require extra skin-to-skin contact to stay warm and more frequent feedings. But do keep in mind that breastmilk can help small or premature babies stay healthy and grow. So it’s just a question of keeping at it steadily and persistently.5
Your Baby’s Feeding Properly If They’re Gaining Weight And Passing Stools And Urine Normally
It’s natural to feel concerned that your baby may not be getting enough nourishment if they keep nodding off during a feed. So how can you decide if this worry is warranted? Look out for these red flags:
- Your baby is not nursing sufficiently: Newborns typically need to nurse 8 to 14 times a day.
- They aren’t passing sufficient stools or urine: A week old baby usually produces 6 wet diapers and has about 3 stool movements in a day.
- They aren’t gaining sufficient weight: Some babies will lose a little weight the first few days after birth. But your baby should gain weight steadily after the first week. Till they are about 3 months old, they’ll typically gain 2/3rds to an ounce each day.
If your baby doesn’t seem to be following these norms, it’s best to have a word with your pediatrician. In any event, if you’re concerned that your baby is not getting sufficient milk, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor.6 7
Stroke, Burp, Or Change If Baby Sleeps Before Finishing Feeding
If your baby has fallen asleep without nursing sufficiently, here a few things that you can try to gently wake them:
- Undress the baby and stroke the back
- Tickle your baby’s feet
- Burp the baby
- Switch breasts or change diapers
This should have them up and alert. Now simply offer the breast. Soon your baby will be conditioned to having their fill before taking a nap!8
|↑1||Falling Asleep at the Breast/Bottle. American Academy of Pediatrics.|
|↑2, ↑8||Breastfeeding FAQs: Sleep Yours and Your Baby’s. The Nemours Foundation.|
|↑3, ↑6||Difficulty with Latching On or Sucking. The John Hopkins University.|
|↑4||Nursing Positions. The Nemours Foundation.|
|↑5||Your Guide to Breastfeeding. Department of Health and Human Services.|
|↑7||Your Guide to Breastfeeding. Department of health and Human Services.|